Do Angelfish Bite? (People, Other Fish & Jaw Anatomy)

It is known that angelfish are aggressive creatures. Unfortunately, quite often, I had to witness how they harass other fish in my aquarium. At some point, I started to wonder whether this nibbling process is merely playing, or do my angelfish actually bite other fish. I also wanted to know if they are likely to bite my fingers when I submerge them for feeding.

Yes, angelfish do bite, both humans and fish tank companions. They mainly nibble when being under stress, or when trying to protect their eggs during breeding times. Angelfish can primarily bite by using their protrudable jaws, which allow them to grasp and yank their food efficiently. However, they don’t pose a danger to people’s hands.

However, as you will see later on, the angelfish’s bite isn’t dangerous to humans. Also, I will present to you a few things to avoid so that your angels won’t harass other fish in your tank. These are among the most common circumstances you have to avoid as a fish owner. 

Do Angelfish Bite People?

Is it commonplace for fish to bite people? Do they only bite strangers, or are their owners also susceptible to such attacks?

First of all, yes, angelfish can bite people. They won’t necessarily eat you, but they can definitely nibble you, it isn’t impossible. Bites can happen with both aggressive fish and friendly angels (their personality doesn’t necessarily make a difference in such situations).

Angelfish will bite anyone. They are not going to give you preferential treatment simply because you are their owner. Yes, you can train angelfish to recognize you, as I’ve discussed earlier in this article. But when your fingers are floating in their water, they cannot precisely determine that those fingers belong to their owner. They might think it’s a random stranger, not in the heat of the moment.

Also, the body part which angelfish most commonly bite is the finger. Why? This is the body part that is typically exposed to water. You won’t find that many fish owners are submerging their heads or legs in their angelfish tanks. On the other hand, you have probably reached into your angelfish tank with your arm on multiple occasions.

When angelfish bite humans, it is generally because the people in question are feeding them. When it comes to feeding your angels, you can choose to pour the food into their tank. But many fish owners prefer to feed their fish using their hands. This exposes their flesh to their angels.

Therefore, be careful when sticking your hand into your tank, even for purposes of feeding your fish. Also, make sure your hands are clean. Your fingers shouldn’t have solvents, chemicals, or cosmetic products. The same goes for open wounds – you could corrupt the water.

It is also possible that your angelfish will bite your fingers during feeding time because they keep missing the food. Then, they will be catching your flesh in their mouths instead. There are also cases where the angels are curious about the taste of your fingers. 

Also, if they have eggs and fry in the tank, don’t be shocked if your angels bite your hand. That is particularly true whenever you stray too close to their breeding ground. This can be imputed to their territorial nature. 

If they think you’re a threat to their young ones, they won’t hesitate to attack you. Keep that in mind the next time you invade their territory. Don’t antagonize them. Otherwise, you cannot complain once they retaliate. 

Either way, you should know that angelfish bites are not dangerous. And in most cases, it doesn’t even hurt. The occurrence is more startling than painful. So it shouldn’t worry you. Your angels don’t have enough strength in their teeth and jaws to do any real damage. 

Will Angelfish Bite Other Fish?

As you will see later on, the average angelfish has an efficient jaw. For now, let’s focus on what this means for other fish. If your angelfish shares its tank with other creatures, are they in danger? Should you worry about your fish biting them?

Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’ As was mentioned above, angelfish have aggressive tendencies, and that can compel them to bite their tank mates. 

Various factors can encourage this behavior, with the most prominent, including:

1. The Size of Your Tank

Angelfish can grow to an average size of six inches. If you buy a tank whose size is designed to suit their bodies when they are still young, the angels are eventually going to outgrow it. If you have multiple angels in a small tank, the overcrowding is going to lead to violence.

Your angels are going to fight for resources and territory. This happens in most tanks. But they will fight harder in a small one because they think that resources are scarce. This will lead to a lot of biting and fin nipping. Fish can die from such conflicts, especially if their nipped fins attract new diseases.

The best solution, in this case, would be getting a relatively large tank. Regardless of their biting habits, angelfish require space. On that matter, I highly recommend that you take a look at my aquarium kits buyer’s guide. I’ve mentioned there the one I personally use for my angels with great success.

Also, keep in mind that the desired tank size depends on the number of angels you are growing. Naturally, the more fish you posses, the larger the tank should be. Here is another article where I discussed how big of a tank do you need for angelfish. I mentioned there a useful rule thumb you will probably find handy. 

2. It’s a Matter of Breeding & Mating

Angelfish bite other fish all the time because of the aggression that manifests once they start spawning. This is why many fish owners prefer to place spawning angels in separate tanks. Some of them might even raise only males or females, without mixing the two genders.

A spawning angel will bite its tank mates either as a means of protecting its eggs and fry or because it is merely manifesting more pronounced territorial behavior. Either way, you should expect quite a bit of biting to occur. 

Also, angelfish tend to lock lips with suitable partners with whom they have decided to mate. But in some instances, they will fight one another for the right to mate with this suitable partner. This can happen in scenarios where you have an odd number of male and female angels. Such fighting can also occur in situations where a female leaves one male angelfish in favor of another one.

3. Hierarchy Establishment

When you place angelfish in a group, they are going to fight as a means of establishing a pecking order. This is perfectly fine in most cases because the angels will simply lock lips and chase one another around. 

But there are times when such conflicts escalate. At specific points, some of your fish may bite their subordinates to the end of doing serious harm. Here is an article I’ve written regarding that topic. I elaborated there on how to distinguish between aggression and mating purposes when it comes to lip-locking among angelfish.

Sometimes, the fighting and biting subside once a pecking order has been established. But in some cases, the superior fish make it a point to bully their subordinates even after they have built their dominance, nipping at their fins every chance they get.

4. Aquarium Conditions

Another potential cause of the fighting, biting, and fin nipping is starvation. Hungry angels won’t hesitate to attack one another whenever food is introduced to the aquarium. Though, it should be noted that you cannot always identify the factors compelling some angelfish to bite their tank mates.

Some angels are simply too aggressive for their own good. Whenever you come across such fish, you are encouraged to take them out of the tank. Fish are not necessarily the most rational creatures in the world.

If you leave aggressive angels in a community tank filled with friendlier, more docile fish, the aggressive angels will cause quite a bit of damage. They may eat all the smaller fish and harm others, possibly even directly or indirectly killing those they cannot eat.

Your best bet is to remove them from the equation.[1]Opens in a new tab. You can either discard them altogether or move them to a new tank where they can live alone or with more substantial, less peaceful fish. You should also pay close attention to the fish that were bitten. If you ignore nipped fins, they will attract infections that could eventually kill the fish. 

Fish rot is particularly dangerous. You need to treat the injured fish as quickly as possible. Better yet, you can prevent such occurrences by only keeping aggressive angels out of community tanks. If you have acquired an angel and it is showing signs of uncontrollable aggression, consider taking it back to the pet store. 

How do Angelfish Bite?

Angelfish are aggressive creatures.[2]Opens in a new tab. Some of them are peaceful. But aggression is in their nature. This is why you should give careful consideration to the species you add to their tank. An angelfish’s bite isn’t something to laugh at. This is what scientists can tell you:

Angelfish have a strange mouth, though you probably can’t tell from the outside. First of all, they have a protrudable jaw.[3]Opens in a new tab. This affects the way they eat. In some cases, they simply suck the water into their mouths, dragging their food along. 

They do this for both dead foods floating in the water and live prey. But they can also swim at their prey, opening their jaw wide and slamming it down upon the food they encounter. As was mentioned, this approach applies to both dead and live food floating in the water. 

But they can also pull food off surfaces, tearing and swallowing it. This is the result of their interesting jaws. Because they can protrude their jaws (upper and lower) out and away from their head, the force with which they bite is increased. The jaws protrude a few inches.[4]Opens in a new tab. This is useful for reaching food in difficult corners. 

Once they grasp an item in some nook or cranny, they can yank it out of its hiding spot before eating it. Also, angelfish have an extra jaw at the bottom. The teeth in this jaw are comparable to bristles. Once they grab food, this lower jaw allows them to maintain a firm grip on it.

The lower jaw plays a vital role in the eating process. When the jaws protrude to grab food, the lower jaw has an extra joint that allows them to bite. This, in turn, allows the jaws to grasp and yank at food.

This configuration of their mouths makes angelfish better hunters than some of their counterparts. They can grab and eat food attached to surfaces underwater. They can also pull it out of crevices that other fish cannot reach. 

Fish with such unusual jaws typically prioritize certain types of food over others. But angelfish can eat a wide variety of meals; their stomachs can digest different types of food. That, in turn, makes them better at surviving. They are not beholden to any particular diet. Simply put, angelfish can live in a variety of environments.

Conclusions

You shouldn’t be surprised if your angelfish bite other tank mates. They are relatively aggressive fish that feature a unique, strong jaw structure. If you’ve noticed the harassment is too harsh and some of your fish got ripped fins, maybe it is time to separate the two species. 

However, when it comes to lip-locking among angelfish, you shouldn’t have to worry. Sometimes they do so when they are mating. The best way to determine is by observation. See if they eventually mate and calm down. Otherwise, recognize the problematic one and isolate it in a different tank.

I hoped my article had shed some light on whether or not angelfish bite. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean you should be scared. Merely experiment and see how things work best in your particular aquarium.

References

  1. https://www.cuteness.com/article/fin-nipping-fish
  2. https://www.petmd.com/fish/general-health/5-facts-about-angelfish
  3. https://www.seeker.com/the-bizarre-jaws-of-the-angel-fish-discovery-news-1765431190.html#health
  4. https://marinebiology.org/tag/angelfish/

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